Improve your thoracic mobility & strength to combat a rounded back.
This article aims to provide you with physical therapy solutions and banded exercises, to reduce postural kyphosis - which many people develop from working at a desk all day. A sedentary lifestyle is commonly associated with those who develop kyphosis. Shortening of the hamstrings and a ‘hunchback’ position naturally rounds the thoracic spine leading to many health issues.
What is Kyphosis?
Kyphosis is an abnormal rounding of the upper back in the thoracic vertebrae. The thoracic spine is the middle section of vertebral column, which runs from the base of the neck to our abdomen. It connects the cervical and lumbar spine and is the only area of the back to be connected to the rib cage. Most people have a natural kyphosis of 20-45 degrees, however if the angle exceeds 50 degrees, this is medically described as excessive; and is called hyper kyphosis. To sum this up, most of us have a slight kyphotic position, as it is the natural shape of the spine; but too much a kyphotic position will lead to the ‘kyphosis’ condition which is detrimental to our health.
Why is a Kyphotic posture bad?
The positioning of the spine in a kyphotic posture can really tighten the hamstrings and cause the shoulders to slouch, which prevents the ability to perform simple movements and increases the risk of injuries. This hinderance in our daily exercises can also cause discomfort and stiffness whether sitting or standing. An extreme curvature can also put pressure on the spine, which can lead to severe pain throughout the back. In serious cases, kyphosis can create breathing problems due to pressure on the lungs.
Lastly, because the thoracic spine is rounded so much, the lower back typically compensates by curving inwards even more, and placing more stress on the lumbar spine.
This is usually caused by poor posture. Slouching and bending in fixed positions for long periods of time can stretch muscles in hunched positions. Combined with weak supporting muscles, this type of kyphosis can develop quite quickly in anyone.
This is caused by a structural abnormality in the spine and is a result of triangular shaped vertebrae, rather than them being rectangular shaped. As this is more typically more serious than postural kyphosis, we cannot recommend treatments for this. Treatments range from stretching, physiotherapy, wearing a back brace and even spinal fusion depending on the severity.
This is present at birth and occurs when the spine fails to develop correctly when still inside the womb. Again, this article does not address rectifications for this condition.
How to reduce a hunched posture in postural kyphosis.
The good news is that you can improve postural kyphosis with targeted exercises. It is important to focus on a variety of training protocols for the best results. Here we look at muscular strength, joint mobility and muscle flexibility:
- Strengthening the upper & mid back and trapezius muscles will pull the shoulders back. This will help combat the hunched position and slouched shoulders. Pulling exercises which open out the chest are ideal.
- Increasing the mobility of the thoracic spine by using rotations flexion & extensions. Mobility means our joints are functioning correctly and can move through the joint capsules with a good range of motion. This will improve movement and reduce stiffness in the joints and muscles. The spine should move in all directions, so a variety of different movement patterns are useful here.
- Improving the flexibility of the hamstrings, glutes and back muscles to further mitigate stress and tension. Taking the muscles through a longer range of motion will loosen them in a fixed position, improve blood flow and reduce recovery times.
Try out this routine using pilates bands; to build upper back strength, mobilise the spine and shoulders and increase your joint and muscles range of motion. Please be careful with these exercises. Make sure you don’t jerk or rush these movements - protect your back at all costs. We advise consulting with a doctor before attempting any exercises if you are unsure.
Complete 2-3 rounds:
- Thoracic rotation 8 reps each side
- Thoracic stretch 5 reps (hold each stretch for 5 seconds)
- Banded reverse fly 16 reps
- Kneeling rotation 16 reps
- High banded row 12 reps
- Low banded row 12 reps
Follow the full routine from Dejan below - which you can complete at home or at the gym:
Bands used in this routine can be found here.
If you would like to follow a targeted mobility and flexibility training plan, we recommend completing our 8 week Fit 4 Life programme.